Believe it or not, it’s almost 15 years since Peter Jackson’s first The Lord of the Rings movie hit the big screen.
Since then, we’ve had plenty of video games based on Tolkien’s masterpiece, and while even the most hardcore LOTR fan would struggle to say every single one is a classic, some have actually been pretty darn great.
To celebrate the upcoming 15th anniversary of Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, we’re looking back at the top 5 LOTR games (with a few honourable mentions for those that didn’t quite make the cut) …
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
As the darkest, bloodiest game based on The Lord of the Rings, Shadow of Mordor is definitely a departure from the run of Middle-Earth tie-ins we’ve seen before.
While other games have featured plenty of fighting, bloodshed, and a little exploration, Shadow of Mordor is an all-round deeper experience. You get to wander Middle-Earth as you like, taking on side-quests and hunting down rare objects, all in the boots of a brand-new character with his own story.
One of the best aspects of Shadow of Mordor is the Nemesis System. This innovative feature helps to make the game stand out more than any other LOTR title, and makes Middle-Earth feel genuinely organic.
How? Well, whenever Talion is killed by an Uruk leader, said villain will remember their encounter in the future, while he can also brand certain Uruks and turn enemy forces against each other without risking his own skin.
Villains can also develop their own hunger for vengeance too, if they become disfigured or badly-wounded after facing Talion.
All this makes Shadow of Mordor a must-play for Tolkien fans, and while it’s not perfect, it definitely shows just how much potential Middle-Earth offers beyond simple adaptations of the story we all know.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
While EA’s The Two Towers tie-in was polished, fun, and action-packed, they really pulled their collective finger out for the follow-up.
The Return of the King captures the look and feel of the third LOTR movie beautifully. From that moment when movie footage bleeds directly into the opening stage at Helm’s Deep, the game keeps on getting it right, recreating the film and book’s best scenes.
You can follow three separate routes from the start, choosing between: Sam & Frodo; Aragorn, Gimli, & Legolas; or Gandalf. Each path has its own missions and environments, and builds to the finale at Mount Doom so well you just can’t wait to get there..
As anyone who played this will remember, you felt like you were really at Minas Tirith with Gandalf and Pippin, or in Mordor with Frodo and Sam. Sure, it might be a tad repetitive and lose your interest after you’ve unlocked everything, but the game captures the spirit and excitement of the story perfectly.
This also had a nice little GBA port, an isometric game that makes great use of the platform’s capabilities and offers plenty to see and do.
The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
This might not be remembered as a classic, but The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age could have easily been a masterpiece with more work.
For a start, an RPG with turn-based combat was a major step sideways after EA’s two action-based tie-ins. The story also ran alongside the Fellowship’s, allowing players to take part in many of the key battles and visit core locations without actually having to experience the same plot again.
Like EA’s previous games, The Third Age captures the atmosphere of the movies brilliantly, with rousing music and impressive visuals. This is particularly effective when wandering Helm’s Deep before the decisive skirmish, or running through a ravaged Minas Tirith.
The big problem, really, is that exploring Middle-Earth isn’t as thrilling as it should be.
While locations look spot-on and all, they just feel too under-populated and sparse. Still, the turn-based battles that make up the bulk of the game are fun, exciting, and challenging. Being able to change your own fellowship’s looks with upgrades etc. is a nice touch, too.
You also get to fight alongside such characters as Aragorn and Gandalf at certain times, so you still fell as if you’re making a legitimate contribution to the overall battle for Middle-Earth.
The GBA version of The Third Age is also totally worth a look for fans, as it offers a unique LOTR experience. While it still features turn-based battles, the structure is entirely different to its console counterparts, playing like Fire Emblem.
Sure, it’s unbearably challenging at times, but it really is one of the strongest LOTR games so far, and deserves to be tracked down if you’ve yet to try it.
The Lord of the Rings Online
This MMORPG is kind of the perfect experience for fans of The Lord of the Rings. Being able to explore Middle-Earth at your leisure is pretty amazing, as is building your own character and getting involved in one of the many communities. You can create a hero or heroine from various races, such as Elves, Hobbits, and Dwarves, and choose their expertise (Burglar, Hunter etc.), as brawny or brainy as you like.
LOTR Online is free to play (unless you want to invest in the VIP package for some extra perks), letting you basically live the Middle-Earth lifestyle you’ve always wanted to without having to pay a penny.
The Battle for Middle-Earth II
This RTS game is a deep, engrossing adaptation of Tolkien’s works. Players get to battle through Good and Evil campaigns, exploring different parts of the War of the Ring than those seen in other games.
Missions are pretty much what you’d expect, tasking you with building fortifications, producing fighters, finding resources, and conquering enemies. You can play as six factions from across the good and bad sides, and various ‘hero’ characters (Saruman, Shelob, Gimli etc.) show up.
You can even summon Sauron to dish out some carnage, provided you manage to kill Gollum (Galadriel’s also available, but come on, Sauron’s just so much cooler!).
Battle for Middle-Earth II is a slower, more nuanced game for anyone looking to get away from the simpler hacking and slashing of other LOTR tie-ins, so give it a try if you can find it.
Okay, so there are other games based on The Lord of the Rings that deserve to be given a mention, even if they’re unworthy of the top 5.
For a start, EA’s The Two Towers is still a nice little hack-and-slash adventure probably selling for almost nothing now. You should also try its GBA port, which is an isometric actioner with plenty of RPG-infused goodness.
War in the North is also a decent LOTR game with lots to keep fans happy, but plays like a scaled-down version of Shadow of Mordor. Meanwhile, Lego The Lord of the Rings has plenty to recommend it, but as it’s in the often-comedic Lego style, some fans might prefer the darker, grittier adaptations mentioned above instead.
What’s your favourite game based on The Lord of the Rings? Let us know!